The ability to effectively network with other professionals is crucial for a small business owner. You would be amazed to see just how often a fortunate introduction changes the course of a business—whether by providing a valuable customer, a potential partner, or even knowledge that revolutionizes the business. However, you cannot just show up at a networking event once per month and expect good things to happen. Keep these suggestions in mind as you consider your networking strategy:
Stop judging success based on the number of business cards you hand out. Let’s say you spend an hour at a networking event. Would you rather hand out thirty business cards, or three? The answer is three, and I’ll tell you why: because simply shaking hands, exchanging pleasantries, and swapping cards rarely means anything. Your goal while networking should be to build relationships with other professionals. That requires real conversation. If you meet and get to know only one like-minded individual who may one day become a client, you are better off than if you briefly meet thirty people but make no connections.
Perfect your elevator speech. It is critical that you can articulate the mission of your business in thirty seconds or less. Few people are going to listen to a long, rambling explanation. If you cannot eloquently sum up who you are and what you are about, get to work on this immediately. If you need help in this area, I would be glad to share some pointers!
Don’t limit networking to formal “events.” Arguably the best way to network is to get involved with a cause or an organization that you support. Whether it is volunteering at events or serving on the board, when you are involved with a charity or a cause, you often end up creating relationships with others who share your values.
Lose the “me-first” attitude! Many people approach networking with a “what can they do for me?” mindset. Instead, look for opportunities to serve others. Your selfless attitude will surprise people—and you will often be surprised by the unexpected value you receive from the relationship. Most importantly, understand that networking is about building long-term relationships, not extracting immediate value.